PROFIT-HUNGRY water companies are dumping sewage into rivers in England and Wales, harming wildlife and potentially threatening human health, conservationists have warned.
Environmental charity WWF said that eight in 10 rivers failed to meet good ecological standards, with half polluted with sewage.
England’s nine water and sewerage companies reported 1,902 pollution incidents last year, the first rise since 2012, the WWF report found.
Most water and waste companies use the rivers network as a free transport system to carry sewage effluent to the sea.
Industrial and domestic waste is filtered to remove bacteria, pathogens and parasites before being dumped in rivers. But at times of heavy rainfall untreated waste is fed direct into streams and rivers because the companies’ filtration systems cannot handle the extra volume.
Companies have also failed to invest in improved filtration systems, and WWF says effluent discharged continuously from sewage treatment works is not being treated to a high enough standard to protect rivers.
WWF campaigns head Ben Stafford said: “We want to see water companies produce long-term wastewater plans that ensure the sewage system is sufficient to prevent pollution and cope with today’s downpours, future climate change, increasing urbanisation and population growth.
“We want to see the UK government and the Welsh government make these plans a legal requirement.”
Sewage pollution can cause rapid algae growth, starving rivers of the oxygen that insects, fish and other wildlife depend on, hitting other species such as otters and kingfishers at the top of the food chain.
A spokesman for industry body Water UK claimed that by 2020, the water industry will have spent about £25 billion on environmental work to improve the quality of our waterways.